While the city of Puno is not terribly interesting on its own, it is graced by Lake Titicaca. Prone to hyperbolic descriptions (highest navigable lake, South America's largest lake, largest lake in the world over 2,000 m) the lake really is a marvel with its rich pre-Hispanic culture and floating islands. On a day-long boat trip to explore the lake, we first visited the floating Uros Islands. The Uros people may have originally fled from the mainland to these islands to escape persecution by invading Incas or Spaniards. Now about 2,000 people live on these floating islands, which undulate disconcertingly under your feet when you first step on to them. The Uros people construct their floating islands, homes, and boats from the abundant totora reeds that grow in the lake. They fish and raise cuy (guinea pig) and navigate the waters of the lake on fantastical reed boats. A family showed us their small reed house, dressed us for pictures in their typical clothing, and we purchased some brightly decorated trinkets from them as thanks for their hospitality.
Touristy, yes, but fun to wear the clothes of the Uros Island people
Two more hours across the placid blue waters of the lake took us to Taquile Island. Huge snow-capped mountains of Bolivia towered over the southern coast of the lake as we climbed off the boat. This island is home to descendants of one of the last groups to resist the Spanish conquest of the Incas. To punish the rebellious Taquileños, the Spaniards forbid them from wearing their traditional clothes. As a result, the islanders still wear the Spanish peasant clothing styles their ancestors adopted over 500 years ago. After a typical lunch of quinua soup and fried trout atop the breezy island, we were treated to a weaving demonstration and some music. We then made our way through the cobble-stoned main square, crossed under gravity-defying stone arches and walked back to our boat. The sun set as our boat slowly chugged back to Puno and the temperature plummeted below freezing. Tomorrow we head for the Sacred Valley and some of the best Inca architecture in South America.